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How the words YES and NO can direct your entire life

Updated: Nov 18, 2019

Yes and No

For many of my years in over 3 decades of ministry, I have been plagued with a problem you can probably identify with.

It’s a problem that causes exhaustion, confusion, frustration, anger, depression, disappointment, loss of sleep, and sleeping too much. It damages relationships, steals destinies, and the failure to deal with it is the cause of many a leader or gifted minister burning out or breaking down. The result is a tragic loss of their cutting edge effectiveness.

Can you guess what this huge and all-powerful problem is?

It’s the inability to use the words YES and NO correctly.

This is one of the most common and chronic problems a leader faces; our effectiveness is enhanced or crippled by the way we use those two little words. When I am mentoring a leader, or talking with a group of leadership friends, this subject inevitably arises.

Many people are struggling with massively oppressive schedules because of saying yes to too many things. Others continue to work way below their capacity due to their automatic negative response when a new opportunity arises, because of the crippling fear of failure.

The way we use these two tiny little words has the capacity to make or break us. The things we say NO and YES to will determine our futures.

Pause and think that through because it may be that the breakthrough you’ve been looking for rests on this one principle. As Martin Luther said: Big doors swing on little hinges. Fulfilment of destiny swings on small choices.

We truly do have a choice about taking on more, and what kind of more that is, but we often respond habitually, without thinking through the ramifications of our choices. Our lives are being directed by how we use the N or the Y word.

Let’s explore YES.

Many leaders, and possibly women leaders are even more inclined to default in this direction, want to be of help. We want to encourage, we want to build, we want to see others succeed. For that reason, if something needs to be done we tend toward agreeing to help. We take on the oversight of that new team, we work those longer hours, we put our brains to work to develop new concepts or reshape old strategies.

Someone needs our help with their conference or their paperwork, or their kids and we step up to the plate.


And again.

And again.

Ad infinitum. Ad nauseum. (That’s Latin for: Continually, until we are of it all.)

And then, when we really are sick of it, physically/emotionally/spiritually/mentally (take your pick or have all of them), we become resentful, we complain, sometimes bitterly, we weep with exhaustion… but do we go back and say, ‘I was wrong to say yes, I need to say no.’

NO! We don’t. We dig our heels in and try harder to do better.

And then someone else comes and asks us to do something and we say…


And we come home and rant and rave because everyone wants us to do something for them, and why doesn’t anyone realise how exhausted and overwhelmed we are.

And while we’re in the middle of the rant, a kid or a husband or a wife or a roommate comes in and asks us to do something…

…and wonders what on earth could have set us off like that.

The truth is that we train people as to how they can treat us. They know, because of all the days and months and years of relationship, how we will respond. Can you blame them? We informed them we were Superwoman because we rose to the challenge of every need and request, whether we really had the time and the heart for it, or not.

If how we are treated is to change, we first have to change ourselves.

We are shaping our future by our YESes and NOs.

Everyone only has 24 hours a day. No one has more than 7 days in a week. It’s the one commodity in which the world has total equality. No one is richer or poorer in minutes than anyone else.

How we use our time – now that’s a different matter. Those who have got timing sorted have realised that for every extra event or responsibility they fit into their 24/7, something else has to step back and take less time. That may look like less sleep, less family time, less work, less recreation or less study, less exercise, less social media, or less good causes. Once time-saturation has been reached, we are prioritising our lives by what we say yes or no to, and something is losing and something is gaining by the choices our words are making for us.

That’s scary.

Now let’s look at NO.

To respond with a NO is as automatic to some people as a YES is to those same people, but the context is vastly different. While we are honing and developing our skills and strengths by helping others with their stuff, often with the acute awareness that we can do a far better job than they do, it’s incredible how reluctant we can be to rise to the challenge when we are offered an opportunity to do a new and more responsible thing.

When conference hosts are challenged as to why there are not more women on their platforms, the response often is that women were asked but declined the invitation. When there is a query as to why there are so few women on the board of national and international organisations, the answer is often that any woman who was asked had refused. Exceptionally capable women often shun positions of importance and responsibility because they are afraid to step forward for fear of (gulp*) not being good enough. The Imposter Syndrome’s (read more about it here) dark magic can work very strongly in women who are called to lead.

Multiple studies show that a man will apply for a position for which he may only have experience in 50-60% of the job specifications, whereas a woman will not apply unless she is convinced she is experienced in 90-100% of those same specs.

We’ve mixed up the proper use of our NOs and our YESes.

The catalyst to help us move away from the things that crowd us out, cloud our thinking and keep us bogged down in our day-to-day work in the trenches, is to say NO more often. Learning to break the habit of saying YES when a NO is required will buy us more energy and confidence to rise to the challenge when it’s time for a big, fat YES.

It’s not an easy lesson to learn. In fact, it’s not one lesson at all. It takes a long time to reverse the conditioning of years in which we were enculturised to believe that our value comes through our acquiescence to the vision of others and our capacity to assist them. The rightness of having a servant heart is not untrue as a concept, but it’s no good to wear as our personal identity.


Learn to discern the long term consequences of your YESes and NOs. It’ll make all the difference to your life and leadership.

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